Seeing Eyedea at the Blaze Battle piqued my interest in Battle Rap. I already loved Hip Hop and was always...
Seeing Eyedea at the Blaze Battle piqued my interest in Battle Rap. I already loved Hip Hop and was always in trouble for running my mouth, so seeing someone clown another person so viciously and so spontaneously captivated me to the point that two years later, I was battling as well, well before I ever penned a rhyme of my own. Eventually, I found Scribble Jam and vociferously consumed every battle I could, studying the game tape and infusing it into my own technique. Watching Scribble Jam is where I first discovered the subject of today’s interview, Real Deal, who is in my opinion, a top 5 Battle Rapper of all time.
While initially, I just saw Real Deal as a guy who gave The Saurus a good fight at Scribble, I couldn’t help but notice that I kept seeing him. This is the work ethic that led to the well-rounded skillset that makes him undeniable. I became a fan during the GrindTime era and a bigger fan after an Ultimate Freestyle Fridays appearance where he told his opponent that he’d “put red marks all over his essays”: undoubtedly the greatest rebuttal to a teacher bar in the history of Battle Rap. As an emcee who was teaching in Baltimore, I felt an immediate rapport with a Rapper from Pittsburgh who was also an educator.
Soon after, I reached out to see if he wanted to collaborate on a track I was doing for an upcoming album. The song led to a friendship that stands today, a today where Real Deal stands as the longest-reigning KOTD Champ in league history.
Top 5 is lofty, but he deserves the distinction and has the resume. His longevity while performing at an elite level across eras, leagues, and formats, as well as the lack of holes in his skillset, make him an exceedingly difficult opponent for anyone. He can disarm you with jokes or command a room and talk to you. He can angle you to death, out reference (anyone), and outpunch you. He can switch gears from simple and direct to technical virtuosity. Having come up battling off the dome, he can freestyle too. Finally, Real Deal is a singular ambassador for the sport: the abundance mindset in motion, constantly big upping the hard work and talent of his well-deserving peers.
I was lucky enough to chop it up with the Champ the other day and per usual, the results were everything:
In my opinion, you have an argument for the best to ever do this in that you’ve adapted and thrived in every era. From Scribble to Grind Time to URL/KOTD you’ve been a contender and/or a champion (Shouts to The Saurus here as well because we can say the same about him…tangent, but he’s somehow become underrated because I feel like people are just used to otherwordly craftsmanship from him and don’t even react the way they should all the time…). Can you talk a bit about the evolution of things? How your preparation has changed and why do you think some have thrived while others have fallen off from era to era?
Well, when I jumped into the Scribble circuit and freestyle era it was kind of already on its way out. Formulas were figured out how to basically pre-write yourself through some rounds and natural freestylers had trouble adapting in a knife to a gunfight kind of way. It kind of became the same song and dance over again with loose comparisons and forced multi syllabics, it was boring and I feel like by the second year I was in Scribble the landscape was different and the whole tournament seemed on its way to flex the pen out in Grind Time. The Saurus whom you mentioned, had an absolute stranglehold on the freestyle era at that time. I have never seen a more dominant force in any battle rap capacity than TheSaurus 05-08. I think the biggest drop-off of people unable or not able to find homes was the death of Grind Time. Grind Time as we know it became wildly oversaturated and pretty much a parody of the diversity that it was known for in the beginning. KOTD had to draw a line somewhere so as to not duplicate many of the same mistakes and frankly, Grind Time’s top-tier talent such as Diz, Illmac, and such was pretty undeniable. I think one of the things that helped me is realizing that you can’t always follow trends because on many occasions they don’t withstand the test of time. I found myself adapting over the years and tweaking some things here or there. Real Deal 2008 certainly sounds a bit different than Real Deal 2022 but overall I think I am a much better, more effective battler.
I get asked about the underrated aspect a lot and my response is pretty much the same. If the Aye Verbs and Pat Stays and Hitman Holla’s know who I am and how dangerous I am then some fans basing it off what’s the last URL card or how many views I get don’t mean anything at the end of the day.
That makes all of the sense. Continuing a bit with era to era, I see Battle Rap a lot like I see MMA. It’s rapidly evolving; it’s where you have to seamlessly combine the best of the elements in the craft to stand a chance; it can be brutal and unforgiving. With that in mind, I just saw Soul Khan is making another return; this time vs. Ward. I’m a fan of Khan as a rapper; I think he’s incredible (we’ve even got a joint together). However, when I watch his battles back (literally on “Watch” with Avo and company), I have to agree with what others have said when they say his style hasn’t really aged well. Factor in what Diz said and how his last battle went, and it’s tough for me to believe he can beat someone like Ward at the top of his game. I’m not sure he has the killer instinct or the toolkit anymore (much like a fighter who has been out of it for too long). Do you agree with this sentiment? If so, why, and please add more context to this analogy and thought process.
As far as Soul Khan, I was absolutely stunned at the last performance he had. I just didn’t get what exactly he was doing and what his aim was. Soul Khan isn’t a dummy though. He realized instantaneously the error of his ways and how poorly it translated. Accepting a battler as tough as A. Ward right off the heels of that is risky but he has also had 3 years to prepare. His old battles to be honest might not have aged as well but I think a lot of battles from Grind Time didn’t, mine included at times. I think he had a lot more humor and silliness in his old days and the entire approach was different. He had to have spent these last few years reevaluating what he needs to bring to the table and of course addressing his past performance whilst ensuring fans he won’t make the same mistake. All this being said, I don’t think it’s similar to an aging fighter. An aging fighter loses because his physical tools become dull and he becomes outclassed in an undeniable way. If a battler refuses to adapt then perhaps it’s just laziness or maybe he is sticking to his guns and what put him in that position from the jump. No fan, in my opinion, can tangibly say what’s dope or not, it is opinionated, therefore they can’t age you out of the sport, and if you were a peak writer nothing is stopping you from getting back there.
I was actually a battle rapper before I was making music. I started freestyling and then battling over beats. The battle scene brought my crew together and then my focus shifted to music. Tell me about the genesis of Real Deal with respect to that.
I have and always will be music first. I actually prefer my completed music over any completed battle, and it’s a much tougher achievement. You have to dance with the girl you came with, however. Battle rap has been the ticket and has done wonderful things for me over the years. When I write my album, the approach is completely different. So much more collaborative effort and so many more hands on deck. Doing both simultaneously was a daunting task at first in 2008 for me but nowadays separating the two is far easier.
How did Pittsburgh’s scene shape you? I’d love to hear more about your experiences with the noteworthy (and in some cases legendary) figures you crossed paths with in that scene.
I am so fortunate to say I was part of the golden era in Pittsburgh Hip Hop. The 2009-2012 scene that I don’t know if a city this small could ever duplicate. I was just an aspiring rapper around 2005 doing local shows at the few spots we had, one being the legendary Shadow Lounge where Wiz Khalifa would perform as well. I was good at lunch table roasting and could rhyme halfway so it made sense to do battle shit. The first battle rapper who blew me away was Jin. The way he turned everything on its side amazed me. Shortly into college, saw Swann and Wreckognize in an MTV final and that was incredible. By 2007, I was the best freestyle battler in my city (or so I thought). I was regularly winning a freestyle MC challenge called “Rhyme Calisthenics” with other up-and-coming artists like Mac Miller. One night I did a freestyle battle with 12 other MC’s. I was rapping outside before the show and ended up battling a judge named Ron Noodles. I wasn’t aware at the time but Noodles was an iconic freestyle battler and made the final 4 of Scribble Jam. Needless to say, I got humbled. Shortly into the tournament, I lost as well and kind of had a weird feeling…Noodles however called me on the way home asking me to come back to the event where another rapper dropped out. I went on to win the tournament and Noodles saw real potential in me. He told me to check out something called the “WRC” and “Scribblejam” and the rest became history.
Tell me about how the nature of your preparation changes depending on the league you’re battling in.
Prep wise at this point I like to finish the material with a week or so to spare. I don’t change my level of difficulty with writing, only the references I might make. For example at an iBattle crown in NY an AEW reference will pop more than a URL event in LA. At this point I have never been more comfortable with what I am going to, should, or shouldn’t touch on as far as topics.
Pat was someone I saw as the perfect battler at this point. I feel like he arguably put it all together better than anyone ever at a given time. It’s rare that the most intimidating guy in the room is also the funniest/friendliest but could flip that switch in the arena when needed, while also having the technical rapping/angles down and the ability to freestyle. If you don’t mind, I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on Pat the battler as well as Pat the person.
I’m having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the Pat thing man. So many layers of how sad it is. To try to stay on track, I will start with Pat the battle rapper. There was literally nothing he couldn’t do. He was hilarious, he had cadence switches, took risks, and tried angles, heavy punchlines, wordplay, and internal genius-level multi-syllabics. He could adapt to any crowd, opponent, and atmosphere. He aimed for moments as opposed to dope rounds. I have Pat as my favorite battle rapper of all time, and I have for some time.
As a person, he was somehow better. He would randomly reach out and message you whenever he noticed you had the smallest slither of success to congratulate you. Anything you needed from a word of advice or for him to jump on a live, he was there. When my father passed, Pat sent me a video of him sitting with his mom and they sent condolences on the passing of my father. That would have been enough, but Pat’s mom was dying herself. The man asked the most important woman of his life while she was at death’s door if she would help lift a grieving guy in another country let alone a city away. He also appreciated those who supported him and made you feel your input mattered to him. There will never be another Pat Stay and for that, we have been robbed.
I appreciate you speaking on Pat, homie. In his honor, if you’re building the perfect battler on 2K, what are the attributes? Who are you borrowing from in each case to create your 100 in each category to build the perfect battler?
Ok, the perfect 2K battler for me comes down to this: Pen game, performance, angle execution, freestyle ability, and maybe cadence and ability to switch. I would say for performance, Hitman Holla. Angle Execution? I would go with Pat. Cadence and the ability to switch maybe Lux and freestyle assuming they only get a few flips I might currently say Ward. Pen is the one that’s going to be toughest. It comes down to preference a lot but to me, I’m really big on Bigg K. He never reaches, and even punches in his setups. He has great references and humor as well which to me is part of pen game. If I had other qualities maybe Goodz for defense and Tsu Surf for battle build-up.
I’d love a top 10 all-time vs a top 10 currently in no particular order.
Hollow Da Don
I’d say take off Fresco, Math (not sure if he’s active or killing the podcast), and Dumbfounded for MarvWon, Chilla, and Ward.
You know it’s always #JusticeForCharlie over here so please feel free to speak on your journey as well as the current status of things:
I appreciate this. The next step for me is the album “The Statute Volume 1.” which is OUT NOW!! The goal is to use this as another push for the #JusticeforCharlie movement and try getting the statute changed in Pennsylvania to more than 2 years. I have new “Charlie” apparel coming out as well. This is just the next round vs. medical malpractice. Long as I have breath in my lungs it is “Justice for Charlie”. I want the world to know hospitals killed my father, and kill many many Americans each day.
Finally, what’s next for the champ? And when are we hitting the bars and jukeboxes in Baltimore hahah?
Next for me is it’s time to make one of these Champion of the Year runs. I would ideally like to defend the KOTD title one more time, but if it’s not in the cards I will retire it undefeated. That as well as pushing this album and trying to make noise that way.
Karaoke on the Harbour is a must to be honest. I can’t promise you if the right person sees me I won’t end up signed to a deal and never rap again lol…
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